Tractors“Quality is a contin­uous process.“

Rainer Loesch is Head of Quality at the John Deere Plant in Mannheim. The 6000 M and R series trac­tors are devel­oped and produced there. In an inter­view, he talked about the ability to contin­u­ously develop as an organ­i­sa­tion, and why employee moti­va­tion and an error manage­ment culture are so impor­tant for customer satis­fac­tion.

Mr Loesch, why is quality so impor­tant for John Deere?

Quality is the foun­da­tion of all our work. Customers buy our green and yellow trac­tors because they trust the John Deere brand. Farmers are entre­pre­neurs and they demand reli­a­bility, high machine avail­ability and low oper­ating costs. Only with reli­able prod­ucts can our customers satisfy the needs of their clients.

Turning customers into fans is our moti­va­tion, with every employee giving their best every day. We are partic­u­larly proud when a customer says that his grand­fa­ther and his father drove John Deere trac­tors, and now he is the third gener­a­tion to do the same.

Rainer Loesch is Head of Quality at the John Deere Plant in Mannheim.

How do you ensure this high quality?

In product devel­op­ment, quality begins five years before we go into series produc­tion. To achieve this, our devel­op­ment teams eval­uate the future reli­a­bility of our prod­ucts using simu­la­tion models. The results provide accu­rate predic­tions, allowing us to iden­tify areas that we then system­at­i­cally improve. This contin­uous improve­ment process is consis­tent – from the design stage through to the in-house produc­tion of assembly parts.

In addi­tion, we carry out exten­sive tests before, during and after produc­tion, in order to detect errors before the tractor is deliv­ered to its new owner. Only highly qual­i­fied and expe­ri­enced skilled workers, who are supported by the latest tech­nolo­gies, work in Mannheim.

Take us with you to produc­tion – what processes do you use to prevent errors from occur­ring there?

Our processes ensure that we can master the complexity of using 20,000 indi­vidual parts in 60,000 possible combi­na­tions and assemble these without confu­sion. An example of this is the “pick-by-light” system. A visual signal shows the employee which compo­nent was assigned to the customer’s order.

Our processes ensure that we can master the complexity of using 20,000 indi­vidual parts in 60,000 possible combi­na­tions and assemble these without confu­sion.

Rainer Loesch

Or, to avoid leaks, we use an intel­li­gent torque tool, also called Smart Torque Wrench. This tool controls the screwing sequence, selects the spec­i­fied tight­ening torque, supporting the worker in the assembly of complex hydraulic line pack­ages. If the system detects any devi­a­tion, the process stops and actively requests a correc­tion to be made.

We also invest in items that improve tech­nical clean­li­ness. We purchase brush carpets, a kind of tyre scraper for fork­lifts, to reduce the amount of dirt brought into the produc­tion and assembly areas by factory traffic. With this tech­nique, we catch 500 kg of dirt in front of the factory building every year, reducing the poten­tial for errors. This protects sensi­tive hydraulic and elec­trical systems and protects the customer from malfunc­tions and machine fail­ures.

Processes and tech­nical systems ensure that employees in produc­tion can work as error-free as possible.

How much does each employee contribute to John Deere quality?

Tech­nology and processes can be dupli­cated. The atti­tude to work, seeing the customer behind every order, being aware of their own respon­si­bility and giving their best every day; that’s where our employees make the differ­ence. It is impor­tant for us to create aware­ness and build a quality culture, in which every employee recog­nises and accepts quality and customer satis­fac­tion as their personal respon­si­bility. It is an easy concept, but never­the­less it is a contin­uous and long-term process.

To this end, we carry out regular campaigns, such as our “I am quality because…” campaign. In their own state­ments, our employees have described why quality is impor­tant to them, and what personal contri­bu­tion they make to it. The resulting poster campaign, with over 500 partic­i­pants, shows the impor­tance of quality and reminds us of our personal respon­si­bility.

What happens if an error occurs?

First of all, every mistake is always an oppor­tu­nity for improve­ment. All complaints, whether internal or external, are recorded in a system, eval­u­ated, and priori­tised according to various factors. With this, we control the assign­ment and the processing time. Analysing the cause of an error is usually a highly complex process and, from expe­ri­ence, takes a large amount of time. To shorten this time, we have invested heavily in addi­tional staff.

In the last 8 years, we have halved the number of customer complaints.

Rainer Loesch

A Team of quality engi­neers works, 100% without distrac­tion from day-to-day busi­ness, on root cause analysis. We consis­tently use the machine data, obtained from JD Link, to better under­stand influ­ences and rela­tion­ships. This allows us to deal with customer complaints much more quickly than in the past. This success is measur­able. In the last eight years we have halved the number of ‘bugs’ reported to us by customers.

What role does your team play in this?

Team Quality creates, collects, and processes data, because we can only improve that which we can measure. We create trans­parency by revealing poten­tial. In addi­tion to a quality strategy, plan­ning and tech­nology, we are also respon­sible, as a service provider, for measure­ment and labo­ra­tory services, complaints processing, product audits, driving tests, field checks and much more. A total of 150 highly moti­vated employees work, on behalf of our customers, on the quality of our John Deere trac­tors coming from the Mannheim plant every day.

Trac­tors are tested down to the smallest detail on various test benches at the factory.

And how are errors commu­ni­cated to customers?

Although quality is very impor­tant, customer complaints will always exist in the future. We stand for maximum trans­parency and open­ness. It’s always annoying when a customer encoun­ters an error. First, we check why this error was not found by our exten­sive tests, and what measure we can imple­ment to avoid its recur­rence.

To achieve this, we invite customers with poor product expe­ri­ence to the factory – to describe and discuss their prob­lems face to face. This feed­back makes us respon­sive as a team and gives us a chance to regain lost trust from the customer. We present the customer with trou­bleshooting options, thereby elim­i­nating the possi­bility of errors being repeated in future prod­ucts.

Quality is a firmly anchored corpo­rate value. Customer satis­fac­tion is and remains an affair of the heart, and we give our best every day.

Quality control in the factory: three high­lights

Audit Center

Every week, around five finished trac­tors are taken, at random, from assembly or storage for an exten­sive test. The test check­list contains around 250 items, including:

  • Tractor equip­ment according to the construc­tion card
  • Screw tight­ening torques
  • Func­tional tests of the hydraulic system, the electrics/electronics
  • Overall impres­sion in terms of colouring and finishes
  • Noise measure­ments
  • Tracking adjust­ment
  • Laying of hydraulic/electrical lines
  • Driving test
  • With the engine running → power take-off, fuel consump­tion, leaks
  • Heating and air condi­tioning, engine cooling system

Product final inspec­tion (PFI)

The PFI (Product Final Inspec­tion) test program is carried out on 20% of the daily produc­tion. Our 10 expe­ri­enced test drivers have both agri­cul­tural and tech­nical training, and there­fore know the machine from “both” sides. They drive the trac­tors for 45 minutes under diffi­cult condi­tions (vibra­tion track, ramp brake test and func­tion tests of the hydraulic couplers and systems). After checking, any errors discov­ered are sent via a network to the rele­vant dispatch employees, who then inspect, once more, all poten­tially affected machines. With the PFI test step, you can hear, feel, and discover the remaining weak points outside of the previous test routine.

Online test stand (OTS)

The online test stand (OTS) is a special feature in the agri­cul­tural engi­neering industry, which enables 100% testing of perfor­mance, consump­tion, and func­tions. Here, 10% of the daily produc­tion is checked for 30 minutes. The respec­tive tractor data is trans­mitted to the test stand via a mobile data adapter, for example, the tractor model, wheel­base, engine and trans­mis­sion version, and wheel combi­na­tion. All test results can be trans­mitted online, in real time, to the rele­vant depart­ments for imme­diate eval­u­a­tion. If the test values deviate, the previ­ously produced batches are checked 100%.